(Dude/Bro) Isn’t Funny: Let’s Talk About Pronouns

Okay, folks, I’m back. (Apparently.)

This isn’t actually what I thought would get me back out of my writing slump—the ICD stuff last fall took a lot out of me (and… stay tuned for the rest of that), but I have so many things I want to start talking about again. (Lecturing on actual musical subjects! Gender feels! Rocket League and found family!) I’m really excited to get back to publishing somewhat regularly, because shouting into the void the internet is part of how I keep my head in the game while we’re all stuck at home. Y’all are part of my community, and I’m incredibly thankful for it.

Recently, I finally decided to bite the bullet and publicly update my pronouns on Facebook. I’d been back and forth on it, considering I’m using the spring semester to take she/they for a test drive and see if everything fits more or less like it should, but I got bored, which is when I make most of my public-announcement decisions, and off to the social media printing press they went. I was spurred on by my frustration that Canvas went out of their way to add a pronouns field but limit your options to she/her, he/him, and they/them, which is problematic in ways we can talk about another time. (Maybe I’ll remember to back-link that post here once it’s published!) I couldn’t put my pronouns in as an actual option on Canvas, and I mentioned it on Facebook, along with what they were. The post was short and to the point, and a couple friends immediately came into my comments and inboxes to spread some love and make sure they knew the specifics of how I want to be referred to. Those early hours were exceptional.

And then someone came in with the dude/bro joke, and even though the intent wasn’t malicious, the ensuing fallout straight up ruined my evening.

Almost everyone who’s had the at times very uncomfortable experience of offering up new-to-them, nonstandard, or (in a cisnormative society) unexpected pronouns in a room full of cis people has heard some iteration of the dude/bro joke. In its most basic incarnation, it usually goes something like this: “My name is [name], and my pronouns are dude/bro.” The person in my comments understood it as a joke—which is exactly how it’s intended. However, like in many instances where we make fun of marginalized and minoritized people, the joke doesn’t come from a good faith argument.

The thing you have to understand is that a lot of the activism around pronouns, which has been around for a while but is in some places just starting to make its way into mainstream discourse, is about teaching people how pronouns function from an identity standpoint. Pronouns can be incredibly gender-affirming! They can function as a verbal reinforcement that someone else sees and acknowledges our identity. (That includes your identities, cis folks.) However—and here’s the important thing—pronouns do not equal gender. We cannot assume that all the people using she/her are women, or that all the people using he/him are men. We also cannot assume that all the people using they/them are nonbinary!

For some, pronouns can be a direct affirmation on their gender. For others, pronouns may be a commentary on some aspect(s) of their gender identity/ies or presentation—an additional piece of information that can tell us how someone’s performance of their gender might conform to or be at odds with traditional gender roles and presentation. Still others use pronouns for even more different and varied purposes, and all of these are important and individual. Treating pronouns as a monolith will get you about as far as treating trans people as a monolith. (Read: do not pass Go, do not collect $600.)

For some folks, the specificity of pronouns may not be something that serves them. Certain people (though not all in either of these categories) may choose the ambiguity of neopronouns, they/them, or any/all because of this. But in each of these understandings of pronouns, there’s one really important throughline: that a person’s pronouns are an intentional choice made about how they share their identity, and as such, they’re something we need to respect immensely. And that’s where the dude/bro joke stops being funny—because unless you have run into the, in my experience, incredibly rare queer person using those terms as pronouns as a direct commentary on transphobia and not-actually-gender-neutral language, you’re dealing with someone who’s decided this super important part of how we communicate our identities is worth shitting on.

At this point, I’d like to transcribe my response to the version of the joke that found its way into my comments on such a vulnerable day, because I think it’s my best assessment of the situation and a somewhat brief summary of how I approach this particular topic:

“uhhhhh is this an honest question? Because the only times I’ve ever seen dude/bro pop up are when people are being transphobic and hoping their audience finds it funny. It’s not a super appropriate thing to just ask for that kind of emotional labor when someone’s announcing their pronouns, because this is a super vulnerable moment. Rest assured I am not amused.

“But if I’m gonna put my queer theory hat on, since you’re already here and I’m already bummed about having to field this question in this particular space, the answer is that from a neopronouns perspective, it is something someone could absolutely choose to use as their pronoun set (though I’d probably look for a third indicator after “bro” to specify how the rest of those pronouns would be conjugated), but in current mainstream practice it is a transphobic dogwhistle that reduces our identities to a joke. In my experience, a lot of queer people I’ve come across who choose neopronouns also have some aesthetic, online, or other indicators of their queerness that would help as context clues to determine that they were probably very serious about being referred to this way. It’s not a foolproof method, but when I get a student who tries to pull this with me, my response is always something along the lines of ‘can you confirm for me that this is the pronoun set you’d like me to use?’

“It’s important to me that transphobia is kept out of my classroom, and as this is often used against gender-marginalized people, I wanted to make sure to touch base with you that this is truly the correct way to refer to you.’ The odds of finding an English-speaking neopronoun user who isn’t aware of this harmful trope are pretty damn low, so that’s the system I’m working within until I find something better.”

That, folks, is a 300-word answer to a flippant question that later got deleted, which would have erased the entirety of that labor if I hadn’t preserved it. I’d like to talk more about deletions in online forums at another date, since I’ve got more to say on that subject, but for now, I want to mention a few ways everyone here can foster more pronoun-friendly, trans-friendly environments through communication and community engagement:

  • If you’re cis, offer your pronouns freely and routinely. Adding in the “and my pronouns are [insert yours here]” to the end of your “my name is [name]” will feel a little odd at first—it took me several months to get used to it while I was still using she/her—but offering your own pronouns is a) an acknowledgment of their importance, b) an understanding that not everyone’s pronouns correspond to whatever gender we might clock them as, and c) a great way to create an environment where folks might be comfortable offering up their own pronouns. Please remember that for us, giving our pronouns can be daunting and sometimes dangerous; by offering yours instead of demanding ours, you’re indicating that you’re cognizant of the challenges we face and that you intend to be a force for good in our lives.
  • Seriously, put them most places you put your name. Your artist bio, your social media bios and/or display names, your concert programs, your email signatures—if your name lives there, it’s really great to put your pronouns there, too. Yes, if you’re cis, you might assume folks would get yours right without asking, but some of our pronouns don’t match the cisnormative view of how we present, so the goal here is to actually get people to stop assuming that they know a person’s gender and pronouns without actually using cues and communication provided to understand how we present our identities.
  • Don’t use they/them for people whose pronouns you know are not they/them. That is misgendering, and it is gross. Only use the pronouns people have presented for your use—and remember, for folks who may not be out in every situation or who have other extenuating circumstances affecting their pronoun use, what they tell you may not be what they use everywhere. (Especially if you’re an educator! Especially if your students are minors!) And that’s okay. They understand the risks in their lives best, not you. (Side note: if you do not know someone’s pronouns, using they/them is good.)
  • If you are an educator who may have contact with a student’s parents or guardians, make sure you ask what pronouns they’d like you to use in correspondence with those adults. Lots of trans and gender-nonconforming people face resistance, transphobia, and other forms of violence at home if their families are unsupportive or hostile. By taking this extra step, you’re ensuring you can keep your students as safe as possible in a way that leaves them in control.
  • Don’t mock neopronouns. For some folks, the pronouns we use every day just don’t work, and as a result, an amazing collection of neopronouns has evolved and continues to grow. Some neopronouns are related to other more typical pronouns (my favorite set, that I contemplate using for myself every once in awhile: ey/em/eir, derived from they/them/their), while others follow different rules or are literally descriptive of things we might find in nature or the world around us. (If you’re familiar with some of the Twitch drama last year, this is where that fits in, though an understanding of xenogenders will also help you immensely if you’re looking at that with an analytical eye.) Regardless of the words someone uses to describe themself, it’s important to remember those choices were made with care and intention, and it’s not our job to comment on who they are.
  • Remember that nonbinary people may still choose to use traditionally-gendered pronouns. I contemplated pronouns for months before beta-testing she/they on the CBSS Discord server, and I still don’t know where I’ll settle. But unless you have a close, intimate relationship with someone and you know it’s okay to ask, don’t bug them about why they didn’t choose to add they/them (or whatever the case may be) at some point or another. Unless they’ve expressed they want to answer questions from curious people, don’t ask them to educate you. (If they do want to do that, ask away!)

And remember: if someone’s introducing new pronouns and you don’t know them very well, it’s best to let them remain in control of that conversation. Save the jokes for another time.

Thanks for reading! If you’d like more analysis and commentary like this in your life, come back every Saturday at 8pm MST. To follow my ramblings and creative process in real time, or to support the work I do as an artist and advocate, you can find me on Patreon and @ordinarilymeg on Instagram.

I’m Taking My Name Off the Institute for Composer Diversity

[Hi there! I’m currently working on a follow-up analysis of the internal review ICD released on January 29th. I anticipate it’ll go live in early March, probably as a multi-part series. Wow, do we have a lot to talk about. If you want to keep up with this, subscribe to my blog to get notified when the post goes live, and if you want to hear about how it’s going before publication, hop on over to my Patreon.]

Many of you, like me, have been following developments at the Institute for Composer Diversity this year. The organization, originally created (as I understand it) as an intentional programming resource for educators and directors alike, has grown beyond its initial constraints and begun positioning itself as a juggernaut of diversity in music, particularly in the wind band world. I’ve recommended ICD as a resource in the past—even put them on my master list of resources I co-sign—but, sadly, that endorsement has come to an end.

Here’s the thing: like most institutions, ICD has messed up in the past, often pretty publicly. That in itself isn’t the end of the world! But it has increasingly turned a blind eye to the concerns and critiques of marginalized composers ourselves—the very people they claim to represent. That continual unwillingness to listen, acknowledge issues, and work efficiently to correct them (or to correct them at all) has soured their name among many folks who carry with them more expertise through lived experience in diversity and inclusion than many on the ICD staff.

I’ve also grown increasingly frustrated at ICD’s continued positioning at Midwest and other high-profile conferences as an authority on intentional programming, when in reality they offer very little (if any!) information or best practices on establishing relationships with the composers referenced within their database. There’s no discussion of the fact that many of us make more on commissions than we’ll ever make in individual score sales, no talk about how many of us are self-published because publishing favors notoriety over financial success (and many of us can’t get a foot in the door with the big houses, anyway). There’s no discussion about trauma performativity or the conditions under which it might be appropriate and meaningful to ask a particular composer to write a piece that addresses a specific marginalization or violence. There’s not even any discussion of ownvoices and the importance of prioritizing diverse stories told by the populations they most directly impact. It’s just a database, accompanied by vague encouragement to make marginalized composers part of your ensemble’s stat sheet without any attention paid to how their work actually informs and influences your programming needs and wants.

The stats they suggest are pretty conservative, too. If you go to one of the live ICD presentations, you’ll hear someone (probably Rob Deemer, head honcho of the project) say these are suggested starting points, but if that important caveat is anywhere on their website, I have yet to stumble upon it. (The website does cite a “minimum” stat, but it’s very easy to skip over the importance of the word while trying to process the numbers that follow.)

Among my biggest personal struggles with ICD’s work, though, is that it essentially weaponizes its composers’ marginalizations and markets to band directors without providing any specifics about their work, artistic practices, areas of specialization (beyond instrumentation), or even specifics of identity that composers may wish to share, like pronouns and other information that may vary from the traditional expectations that come with certain genders. We are reduced down to data points on a sheet, names that are guaranteed to check an ensemble’s diversity box without paying too much attention to the specifics of our identities and how those important distinctions might inform our artistic work.

Over the past year, it’s become clear that in allowing non-composers and others to submit information on a composer’s behalf, the Institute has inadvertently outed many queer composers without their consent. This isn’t just careless administration; it’s doxxing. A failure to check in with composers and ensure they consent to specific information being featured on a very public, easily searchable website is a colossal breach of trust. How are we to assume an organization that outs us alongside our contact information actually values our work, when they can’t be bothered to even consider how the release of this information might affect our day-to-day safety?

I first heard rumors of an email that would be sent to featured composers to confirm their presence on the ICD databases several months ago. At the time, I figured I’d sit on my thoughts for a couple weeks, then, when the email arrived, decide how to best proceed. But, like I said, it was months, not weeks—a time span that included much of Pride month, when many of us in the queer community had to lock down our social media to protect from coordinated doxxing attempts. All the while, our information remained readily available on ICD’s website. By the time the email arrived (a little over a week ago), I had lost faith that the Institute cared enough about the composers on their lists to protect them proactively.

Below is a copy of the letter I sent to ICD in response to their request to confirm my information in their databases. I am posting it in full because I firmly believe that an organization whose main mission is publicly espousing a reductive flavor of intentional programming should be held publicly accountable. I’ll post some suggested best practices next week, but for now, here’s what I told them (please note my dig at website hits at the end was due largely to the emphasis on their own stats they place in their promotional material):

Continue reading I’m Taking My Name Off the Institute for Composer Diversity

JK Rowling, TERFs, Bioessentialism, Sexual Assault, and Trauma Performativity (or, in other words… yikes)

I read the essay.

Some of you likely know exactly which essay I’m talking about, but for those who don’t, I’ve just finished reading JK Rowling’s lengthy response to the correct and justified backlash she’s received this week for being more openly anti-trans than usual. As folks on Twitter may know, this isn’t Rowling’s first TERF-y moment: for at least several months, she has made statements in support of or liked Tweets by known anti-trans public figures. This week, she took severe issue with delineating a difference between “people who menstruate” and “women,” sparking the backlash that’s led to where we are now.

First, a note on this: we need a difference between “people who menstruate” and “women,” because those two things aren’t inherently linked. The Venn diagram of the two is not a circle. In obvious ways, it ignores both the trans community and the intersex community, and I’d be remiss to erase either group from the conversation. (If you’re not sure what intersex means, here’s a great primer. Please note some historical descriptors of this community are considered degrading and should no longer be used.) It also imposes ridiculous limits on AFAB (assigned female at birth) people: what happens when you hit menopause? Do you no longer count? What about if you’re on an IUD, and as a result you don’t have a period? What about AFAB people who never have a period at all?

That said, we’re not going to spend time centering cis women past this point. The argument is massively more harmful to transgender and intersex people, whose biological features may not align with the tropes (and, by extension, societal expectations) associated with their gender(s). And while it can be easy to encourage marginalized people to not care what society says, have you ever educated yourself (by reading plenty of available material, NOT by foisting emotional labor on your nearest relevant person) on how difficult it is for trans and intersex people to get quality health care? Are you aware that literally yesterday the Trump administration made this even more difficult by giving insurers and health care providers the ability to openly discriminate against trans people? Did you know that many intersex people are operated on at a young age without their consent to attempt to make their bodies conform to one binary or the other, often with negative long-term side effects? Have you realized that the insidious goal of anti-trans rhetoric is to produce tangible policy changes that, by doing things like cutting off access to health care (at any time, but especially during a pandemic), further disadvantage the trans community and will literally, quantitatively cost lives?

Continue reading JK Rowling, TERFs, Bioessentialism, Sexual Assault, and Trauma Performativity (or, in other words… yikes)

On Identity (specifically, mine)

I have tried to write this post three times already.

On the one hand, it could have taken a lot longer to figure these words out—identity is a tricky thing—but on the other hand, most of my blogs have a single iteration. Drafts, sure, but throwing out a whole post and doing it again? Almost never.

I have tried to write this post three times. Enough to know that no amount of smooth introduction is going to do anything useful for me.

So, hi.

My name is Megan DeJarnett. Some of you already know me and love (/fear?) me. I’m a lot of things, and I could list them here, but today I’m just going to mention the ones that aren’t dependent on my art or my career: I’m a demigray genderfluid woman, but usually I just say I’m queer. (I’m also pan, because of how my demisexuality informs the rest of my attraction; I hadn’t named that when I came out, so I’ve updated this to reflect this current reality. Like the rest of this, that isn’t particularly new, just a continuing discovery.)

Remember the end of Untouchable? When I said things were more complicated now? This is why. Because now, we’re not just talking about sexism aimed at straight, cisgender women. (We haven’t been for awhile, if you look closely—I’ve been sprinkling in more things over time—but I’m not going to keep pretending being female is the only part of the equation that applies to me.) Actually, the original version of Untouchable (which I lovingly called 5700) was going to dive into some of this. The post was going to end with me coming out. It was going to be an even bigger piece than it already was. Thankfully, one of my confidants on my review team pointed out that I owed my identity more than that. (thanks, Leila!)

Continue reading On Identity (specifically, mine)

Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and the Importance of Teaching Identity

It’s December 1, 2019, and I’m propped against the comfiest pillows in my apartment, poring over the second edition of Robert Walser’s Keeping Time: Readings in Jazz History in preparation for a forthcoming guest lecture. I’ve got tons of time—until sometime next semester—but because I’m trying to highlight the connections between my musical work as a whole and the jazz tradition, I’m looking for sources that will back up my arguments. I don’t expect to spend much time in the legitimacy flames this time around, but ideally, I’ll use this lecture again in the future. So I’m reading Keeping Time in full, re-engaging with my favorite parts and digging deeper into things I might have missed or flat-out did not read when I first brought the book home as a junior in college.

While I’m trying to find useful words by men to prepare for the inevitable (hopefully distant) day one decides to argue I’m a poser who doesn’t conform because I don’t understand complex harmony or virtuosic playing or some shit like that, I’m also giving myself full permission to luxuriate in the (few) moments of words penned by women. So I dipped my toes into Hazel V. Carby’s “The Sexual Politics of Women’s Blues” like it was the hot tub of my dreams. I wasn’t disappointed—in fact, in the span of a single essay, my world rearranged itself.

Continue reading Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and the Importance of Teaching Identity

Token Hire

I don’t like being the only gender-marginalized person in an ensemble. If you asked my peers about it, they’d probably roll their eyes and laugh. Yeah, that’s Megan. I don’t have to be with other women, though that’s obviously a blessing when it comes along; in LA, there were plenty of occasions when I performed with a section or a group whose members were male-coded but included at least one other person somewhere on the gender spectrum beyond cis man. I’ve fallen in love with working among others whose struggles to be accepted in our professional environments speak to something in my own experience. These moments allow for subtle, important moments of solidarity: little reminders that we’re not alone.

That said, I spend a lot of time being the only gender-marginalized person in an ensemble. (#BrassPlayerProblems #JazzProblems.) It’s difficult to explain why the difference is so stark, especially when I’m trying to make sense of it to folks who have probably never found themselves in such a situation. (And even if my cis male friends have, y’all don’t have centuries of systemic gendered oppression weighing on you and affecting your treatment within that scenario.) But when a well-reasoned fear of the consequences—both professional and personal—of putting even one toe out of line has been bred into you from the moment you chose your career, when you work in an industry that has a tradition of violence of all types against your gender(s), when you’re working around people you know won’t speak up if someone makes you uncomfortable, you spend a lot more time worrying and being quiet instead of working to create the art you want.

However, it’s 2019. Professionals the world over are realizing all-male ensembles can’t continue to be their default. Overall, that’s a really good thing; doors are beginning to open for gender-marginalized folks who wouldn’t have had many options a few decades ago. There’s a dark side to the change, though: musicians are beginning to reach for women and other gender-marginalized performers to incorporate into their ensembles so they can say they have one. It’s a performative, superficial kind of inclusivity that draws in folks facing this kind of oppression without considering the systemic structural changes that might be needed to make us feel welcome. It’s hastily scribbling down the answers to your math homework in the ten minutes before class without bothering to show your work (because you’re copying someone else’s), and the results are usually the same: if you don’t have a plan for getting from point A to point B, you’ll only ever get partial credit.

Continue reading Token Hire

Here’s Your List: Recommended Resources for Folks Starting Out

Hello! If you’ve been directed to this page, you’ve probably spoken to me recently (or somewhat-recently) about looking for resources on gender marginalization, misogyny, sexual assault, trauma, or some combination of the bunch. You’ve also done so in a way that is respectful and makes it clear your self-education on these topics is a consistent priority. First of all, thank you for being cool about it. Taking the time not only to further your own understanding of the world around you but to ask appropriately and kindly for resources to assist your endeavors is a big deal.

Below is a by-no-means-comprehensive list of resources I hold in high regard. I recommend digging into them at a pace and in an order that makes the most sense for you. Be sure to take care of yourself as you go. Happy reading!

Last update: September 29, 2020

Continue reading Here’s Your List: Recommended Resources for Folks Starting Out